Three years after the advent of the Portapak (the first portable video recorder), MoMA showed Nam June Paik’s Lindsay Tape (1967) as part of the landmark 1968 exhibition The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, organized by K.G. Pontus Hultén. The piece consisted of two, half-inch reel-to-reel decks that were spaced 10 feet apart, with the tape (Paik’s original!), jerry-rigged together to allow it to loop continuously. After a week on view, the wear on the tape proved too much. It began to break down and was taken off view (and was almost lost to history). Despite this rather daunting introduction to the fragile and fugitive nature of video, the Museum began to formally acquire video works in the late 1970s, Read more
Posts tagged ‘Media and Performance Art’
I go to bed with my phone. It’s often the last thing I look at before falling asleep, and the first thing I touch in the morning. There’s no shortage of people thinking about this type of thing—technology-as-prosthesis or part-object—and its array of consequences, but few get to the heart of the matter quite like Hito Steyerl does. Read more
Isaac Julien (British, b. 1960) is one of the most innovative artists working at the intersection of media art and cinema today. With his vivid multi-screen works—fractured narratives that fuse breathtaking images with immersive sonic elements—Julien is internationally regarded as a key figure in the vitalization of the gallery space through new exhibition strategies of time-based art. Read more
I recently inherited a thin, soft-cover guide called Preservation of Historical Records, published by the National Research Council in 1986, which has, I suspect, long gone unreferenced in the Media and Performance Art departmental library. Read more
That thing that looks like a hollowed-out vintage caravan in MoMA’s Agnes Gund Garden Lobby, from now until January 21, is just that. And those bulky, muscular curtains—clinging to all sides—are in fact made of leaves, sweet potato stems, and other organic detritus. And yes, those are real people—dressed in gauzy, powdery garb—moving slowing around, or nestling inside of, the vehicle.
What you’re seeing is The Caravan Project (1999/2011/2012/2013) a work by legendary dance duo Eiko & Koma. They have been making work together since 1972, and their history is detailed at length on the Internet and in many books, so I’ll focus here on the lesser-known story of the Caravan’s journey to MoMA and the performance about to unfold inside it.
On Monday afternoon, the Caravan arrived at MoMA from its storage space in Hackensack, New Jersey. We had to stop traffic on 54th Street for a few minutes as Koma expertly reversed it into the loading dock. And from then on, there was very little margin for error as the art handlers guided it through MoMA’s mezzanine. Despite being sealed and unadorned, it had already taken on anthropomorphic airs—seeming to me like some sort of oversized, burrowing animal, ungainly in its slow but determined movement.
The last image above depicts what the Caravan looked like as the installation was wrapping up late Tuesday evening. Illuminated from the inside and parked askew, it sits below Tony Smith’s Untitled (1962), and in front of Rodin’s Monument to Balzac (1898). That unlikely grouping—each a figure in its own right—and the nearly finalized Caravan itself, has left me with a couple of observations:
Even though the performance has yet to begin, the Caravan feels fleeting. As though it had been on-the-move and needed a quick parking space, and MoMA graciously obliged. On the other hand, it appears as though it was abandoned here decades ago, and somehow managed to remain invisible until now. Decaying in plain sight. These impressions of either happenstance or near-permanence each lend the Caravan a serenity I did not anticipate. In the busiest thoroughfare of the Museum, it seems at ease.
I’m reminded here of a story about Eiko & Koma recently told to me by a friend who’d had them as teachers at Wesleyan University. She described how, in class, they asked students to isolate under-loved or under-danced body parts: “Dance from the back of your neck,” “dance from your armpits.” In another exercise, they encouraged students to dance as if each finger had a separate persona, and in a third, students were asked to move as though plants were blooming from their bodies. These requests—dancing from minor parts of the body; reconceiving hands as a quorum of autonomous subjects; trying to adopt an arboreal pace—resonate with the Caravan’s feel and function in the Museum (albeit on a different scale). The Caravan is a slow moving organism, operating in a minor key and with a temporal sensibility that seems to rub MoMA against the grain. It invites close and extended looking, an unanticipated meditation in and on an often frenzied space.
Eiko & Koma: The Caravan Project, held in conjunction with the exhibitions Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde and Performing Histories: Live Artworks Examining the Past, is presented in the Museum’s Agnes Gund Garden Lobby during Museum hours from Wednesday, January 16 through Monday, January 21.
Upon arriving as the new Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA about two years ago, I was determined to focus on the acquisition of unique installations and draw a more complete narrative of media and performance art through its representation in videos and photographs in MoMA’s collection and exhibitions. Read more
Friends and family keep asking me recently, “What do you think of the Marina Abramović show?” The exhibition has sparked a lot of conversation, especially one aspect of it—yes, the “naked people.”
Some viewers have been shocked by the bodies in our galleries, but I didn’t expect to be one of them. Beyond the occasional cartwheel, there hasn’t been much call at MoMA for my performing skills… but before I was a MoMA wordsmith, I was a modern dancer, performing for several years mostly with the Regina Nejman Dance Company.
Dancers become comfortable with the body to an unusual degree. There’s the co-ed quick costume-changing backstage, the impolite contact of dance partnering, not to mention you spend a lot of your life wearing spandex. And yet I discovered that Abramović’s reperformers—clothed and unclothed—ruffled my composure, too.
Imponderabilia (1977), the Abramović piece in which two nude performers flank a doorway, has gotten a lot of press. Brushing past the genitalia of strangers in a crowded, public place—could anything be more nightmarish for a New Yorker? Recently, playing hooky from my desk, I breathed in, to be thinner, and slipped between the man and woman performing that afternoon. Safely through, I realized my heart was pounding. Other visitors hurried through nonchalantly, pretending they were going that way anyway; the performers, standing with knees slightly bent, never broke their bubble of concentration. (A good trick for the endurance stander, to avoid wobbling or fainting: don’t lock your knees.) Read more
We asked a number of visitors to Marina Abramović’s performance retrospective, The Artist Is Present, to share their impressions with us. Visitor participation is central to this exhibition—Abramović’s own performance for the show asks visitors to come sit with her and essentially become a part of the performance piece, while the “reperformances” in the sixth-floor galleries turn viewers into spectators and confront them in a way art objects never could. We wanted to hear from visitors about their experiences with these works. Read more
When artist Marina Abramović and curator Klaus Biesenbach first met with the Publications team to discuss the catalogue that would accompany her exhibition at MoMA, Marina knew she wanted to create a book that offered a different kind of reading experience. Hoping to address the eternal challenge of capturing the complexity of live performance on the printed page, she proposed the addition of an audio component, which she felt would allow for a more personal, intimate, and experiential understanding of the work. What you hear in this video is a track from the resulting CD, which comes with the book. Read more